All levels welcome

The class is called “Building a Garden Shed.”  I don’t have a garden.  Nor any property on which to put a garden.  In fact, I’ll be living “on the road” for the next year, so it’s inconceivable that I will need to know how to build a garden shed anytime in the near future.  Despite all of this, it is one class I’ll definitely be taking during my four months at the John C. Campbell Folk School.

Why?  Well, because I still have it in the back of my mind that I may one day want to live in a Tumbleweed Tiny House.  And I may just want to build it myself (well, with help of course).  There is just one small hurdle here: I have zero home building skills.  You might think building a garden shed is quite different from building a tiny house.  In which case I ask if you’ve seen a Tumbleweed?

My class covers use of hand and power tools (the only power tool I’ve every used is an electric screw driver thing), framing, trusses (I think those are the things that hold the roof up?), shelf building (I imagine this could be useful even if I never build a house), and window and door installation (because just about any house I live in will have windows and doors….though now that I think about it, maybe not…)  And when it’s all done, we’ve built a garden shed for the Folk School to use for years to come:)

Building anything is so out of my element that I just love the idea.  I mean, how else would I learn all these things?  You might think JCCFS would want only experienced builders on such a project.  And you would be mistaken.  Because one of the things I love most about JCCFS is that so many of the class descriptions, including this one,  end with the words “All levels welcome.”

You Never Know Who’ll Show Up

With my first-ever organizing class just a few weeks away, I took off for my favorite place to do research:  the bookstore.  There are a ton of books about how to organize.  The problem is that when someone wants to get organized, the best way to un-motivate them is for them to see a 300 page book on how to do it.  That’s why people sign up for my class.

Here’s the thing though:  I really didn’t need to read those books.  Over the past ten years, I’d helped so many people pare down and read so many books on the topic that I had all the information in my head already.  The reason I needed a book was to remind me of how much I did know.

I pulled a few off the shelves that seemed to address my audience (retired folk looking to stop accumulating and start scaling down) and then was able to snag an overstuffed chair on which to sit while I assessed the value of each book.  I picked the one I liked best – a fairly thin volume that covered what I hoped to in my four week class – and bought it.

I must confess that, though I carried that book and a notebook everywhere I went, I still didn’t sit down to outline my course.  But down to the wire, with just a couple days until my first class,  I panicked.  To get talked off the ledge, I called the person I knew would calm my fears: my mother.  I can’t recall what she said.  Something along the lines of “Just sit down and do it.”  So I did. I put it all on paper.  I was ready.

On the first day of class, after my students settled themselves into their seats, I asked them to go around the room telling me what their reason was for taking this course.  The answers were what I expected: the collections they didn’t know what to do with, the piles of books and papers, a desire to move to a smaller space.  And then we got to a tiny lady in the back of the room.  She said she loves organizing and is just here to learn some new tips.  Her friend piped up, “It’s what she does – and she has a book.”

My smile hid my intense fear and dread as I said, “Oh, wonderful!”  My fear, though, quickly dissipated as I realized I would do the same exact thing she was doing.  No matter how much I think I know about organizing, I still pick up the magazines touting tips for organizing your kitchen cabinets.  And I, too, would sit in on a class on the topic because there’s always something new to learn.

The other thing that helped me get over my initial shock at having an actual experienced organizer in my class was that I knew that I had a great class planned.  My confidence pushed me through.  And I figured there was some reason that I was up here instead of her.

My class went fabulously well.  I did some interactive activities, had a short video that made people laugh, dispelled some myths and felt like we’d made progress.  I knew that was so when many of my students sought me out at the end of the class to tell me how much they enjoyed it.  Including the organizer.  She asked about my interest in the topic and I quietly told her my dream and how I thought this was a good way to start.  She said I did a great job.  She gave me her card and her book and offered that if I would like to meet with her sometime to talk about how to get started, she would be happy to do that.

Wait a minute.  What about this idea of competition?  Why would she want to help me – someone who could potentially take business from her (if I ever got this idea off the ground)?  Then I thought back to something Barbara Winter once said to me: there is plenty of business to go around.  And smart entrepreneurs realize this and befriend their would-be competitors.  Had this woman known this tip?  I then thought about how many potential math tutors had asked me about how they could get started – sheepishly at first.  I am always encouraging and supportive.  First because I’m such a fan of having work in which you’re your own boss – and if I can help someone else see the joys of that, all the better.  And secondly because there are a lot of kids out there that need math help.  More than I can tutor.  And my goal is to help kids.  Encouraging others to become tutors fits in with that goal perfectly.

I was still a little mystified as to why this woman would want to help me, though.  But I took her information and told her my next few weeks were a bit busy but that I would love to talk to her.  It’s true, my next few weeks were busy.  But here was God putting this wonderful resource right in my lap – who was I to turn it down?  So I e-mailed her a week later and set up to have coffee with her after our next class.  Little did I know what a wonderful idea this was.

When The Timing Is Right…

I would often beat myself up over my fear of starting an organizing business.  But over the last couple of years, I’ve come to believe that when the timing is right, things will happen.  One of the things about “the right timing” is that you can’t really predict when that will be.  Which I think makes it more exciting when the time does finally arrive.

A few members of my writing group were attending a course at a local adult education center on writing memoir.  These were women who had traditionally focused on other writing forms – fiction and poetry mostly – so they were excited to discover the talents they had in this other arena.  Each time they came to writers group, they would rave about the instructor and the assignments they had been given.

Their excitement did two things for me: it caused me to reminisce about my own first memoir writing experience at the John C. Campbell Folk School and it also stirred in me some curiosity about this adult education program.

A few months earlier I had come back from a conference for those of us with a business idea that are “stuck.”  While there, someone helped me to come up with a fabulous title for an organizing class I could teach at an adult education center.  We were encouraged to teach at places like this because you can test out your ideas on a group of people and build your confidence in your knowledge of your subject matter.

So when my fellow writers raved about their memoir course and other courses they had taken at this place, I went on the web site to see what it would take to teach there.  I was thrilled to see that you didn’t have to submit a course proposal – you could just call them with your idea.  I wasn’t a fan of blindly submitting an idea – get me talking, though, and people love me.  So I called and left a message saying I had an idea for a course.

When I was called back the next day, the woman asked me about my idea.  Then, she asked my experience.  Here’s the thing: I’d only ever been paid to help someone organize once.  But “experience” does not always mean “paid.”  So I told her honestly about my background.  Then she asked about my teaching experience.  On this, I was golden.  I’d taught in adult ed programs before, and I was teaching a college course at that very moment.

She loved my idea, but then said, “The committee that decides on courses for the spring meets tomorrow.  There’s a form you’d have to fill out.   If I e-mail it to you tonight, can you get it back to me by tomorrow morning?”  Ah, a deadline.  “No problem,” I said.

I titled my class, “You Can’t Take It With You….And Your Kids Don’t Want It Either.”  My description started with, “You may have an empty nest, but does your house still look like the entire flock lives there?  Is every closet filled, but you’re not sure with what?”  I had a grand time filling out the form, and I sent it off.

The woman called me back the next day and said, “When I read about your course, everyone on the committee was either laughing or sighing because they all know they need to take it.”  I was in!

When the course calendar arrived a couple months later, I saw my words in print.  Oh how exciting!

There was only one problem: I had a course to teach in a few weeks, and had yet to plan out what I would tell these folks.